I’ve totally neglected this blogging thing…but it’s such a pain in the arse to do on my phone, and I’m guessing most of you who read this have seen my updates on Twitter and Facebook anyway. Still, I’m going to try and do a quick round up of what I’ve been doing since that last blog post.
Wednesday – Shannon and I went and did the tourist thing in LA. We drove down the coast past the stupidly expensive beach front houses of Malibu, and the amusement park on Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach, with the delayed reaction instructions of the satnav on my phone causing much hilarity along the way.
We saw all the sights of Venice Beach – a man wearing tiny shorts and working out at Muscle Beach, skaters and cyclists, hippies and street traders, and not forgetting the several offices of Marijuana Doctors! And I bought a new hat from a man who called himself ‘Hat Dog’ and kept randomly making me try on different hats while telling me, several times, how nobody new more about hats than him, and how Angelina Jolie had bought 17 hats off him! He was hilarious, but I think if I hadn’t been with Shannon I would have been a little bit terrified.
After some lunch we drove to Hollywood Boulevard through Beverley Hills and past Rodeo Drive – which I was very excited about due to their prominence in Pretty Woman! On Hollywood Boulevard we looked at the Walk of Fame stars on the sidewalk, saw the Kodak Theater where the Oscars are held and, my favourite bit, saw all the hand and footprints outside Graumann’s Chinese Theater. You could spend hours there just comparing the size of your hands and feet to all the celebrities!
After a quick glimpse of the Hollywood sign and (more) ice cream we headed back up to Shannon’s house. But a bit bizarrely to a different house to the one we left in the morning. I have to thank Shannon and Jeremy so much for their hospitality – I don’t think I would want a guest when I was literally in the middle of moving house! And despite my worries I wasn’t even very allergic to their cute little dogs Austin and Marvin.
I loved LA and it was great to see all the famous sights and the places you recognise from the movies, but I don’t think I could spend any longer than a day there!
Thursday – A fairly early start, a little bit if shopping at the outlet mall where I wanted to buy new Converse but ended up with a Gap hoody too, and then I was back on the road heading for Palm Springs, a place I’d heard of but didn’t know much about. A pretty boring drive down the Interstate later and I was stepping out of the car into 110 degree heat – that’s about 43 centigrade. I’ve experienced that kind of heat before, in the heatwave of 2003 when I was working in the Dordogne. But this was desert heat, and it’s like actually being in an oven! A quick enquiry at the visitor centre and I’d landed a room at a fairly swanky hotel (with a pool) for the bargain price of $40. In the evening I had a wander round the street market they have on the main street every Thursday evening, and along with some corn on the cob and fresh lemonade, I also got a massage from a Chinese man. Excellent.
Friday – The reason I was in Palm Springs was to go the 2.5 miles up Mount Saint Jacinta on the Arial Tramway as recommended by my friends Claire and Dave. And boy am I glad I followed their recommendation.
I was up and about early enough to get the first car up the mountain at 10am, with an assortment of ill-prepared tourists and over-equipped hikers, and I’m glad I did, because when I went on the 1.5 mile Desert View loop there was no-one else around to spoil my enjoyment of the absolutely awesome fucking views. It was just staggering – we just don’t get vistas that…big in Europe. It’s really hard to explain just how breathtaking it was, hopefully when I get home and get the photos off my actual camera some of them will do it justice. And it was also a blessedly cool 20 centigrade up there. I spent an hour or so admiring the views then came back down and set off on my drive to Yuma, right on the California/ Arizona border, and the Yuma of the film ‘3.10 to Yuma’ fame. I found a motel, had some food and got I think the earliest night of my whole holiday. Man I was tired!
Saturday – After a look round the Quatermaster’s Store, a preserved military depot from the 19th Century and the Yuma Territorial Prison museum, I set off on the drive North to Kingman on Route 66. And the first few hours of that drive were up the US 95 which runs up through Arizona. It is one of those roads that looks like someone has drawn it on the map with a ruler. Running perfectly North/South in the straightest line you’ve ever seen. I turned on the cruise control and rested my fingertips on the wheel, and that was about all I needed to do!
As I drove further north the road got a bit more interesting as it ran alongside the Colorado river (which seemed to be full of people in speedboats and on jet skis enjoying the holiday weekend). When I hit the I-40 I actually had to drive a little way in the wrong direction so I could get on to ‘Historic Route 66’ and yes, I did play the song at full blast as soon as I hit my first actual bit of the old road! The bit I drove winds its way through the Black Mountains and the town of Oatman, which really is still like the the old Wild West, wooden sidewalks, wild donkeys and all!
It’s amazing to think that this steep, winding, probably somewhat treacherous road was once (and until fairly recently – well the late 70s/ early 80s anyway) the main thoroughfare across the States. After driving through the hills from Oatman I arrived in Kingman. Which in the words of the song sits between ‘Flagstaff Arizona, don’t forget Winona…’ and ‘Barstow, San Bernadino’. Kingman has a rich Route 66 history and I stayed in the properly old school Hill Top Motel, and further indulged my love of 50s diners at Mr D’s.
Sunday – Independence Day
After a look round the excellent Route 66 museum and the pancakes for breakfast that I’d been holding out for. I was intending on driving east to Meteor Crater then back west to spend the night in Flagstaff but I mentioned it on Twitter the lovely Liza (@wickedlibrarian) did some research online for me and found out the July 4th Fireworks had been cancelled due to the high fire risk. She suggested I try Sedona which is about 30 miles south of Flagstaff.
But first I went to the Arizona Meteor Crater, another thing I wouldn’t have done were it not for a recommendation, this time from the awesome @BarrySkellern. The crater was formed 50,000 years ago by a 150 foot meteor and it was really impressive to see. The little museum there was great too, with lots of interactive exhibits.
So then I set of back west heading for Sedona, what I didn’t realise was that once I left the Interstate at Flagstaff I would be driving right through Oak Creek Canyon, another spectacular experience. It took a bit of driving about to find a motel and when I did the only room they had left was a ‘jacuzzi room’ so they gave it me at a discount and I actually had an anteroom off the bedroom just for the jacuzzi!
A short drive down the road took me to Cottonwood and the fireworks display. I managed to find it somewhat accidentally then found myself in a field full of hundreds of Americans and more glowsticks than I’ve ever seen before in my life! I had a hot dog and ooh’ed and ahh’ed with the rest of ’em. It was almost like being a native!
Monday – Back to Flagstaff and a look round the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was first discovered. When i arrived they were doing solar viewings with a specially filtered telescope and I got to look at the sun and see a tiny black sunspot which is actually the size of the Earth! We got to in one of the domes and see the original telescope Lowell himself used when he was looking for life on Mars in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. That was really cool and then I had a very quick look round the exhibits…but I think I’m a bit over -spaced at the moment, certainly at the level of space information available in tourist attractions!
After the observatory I carried on west to Williams and to the first accommodation I’d actually booked in advance since San Francisco. It’s a little B&B called the Canyon Country Inn right on Route 66. I did make a bit of a school boy error when booking because it doesn’t have wifi but then when I booked I didn’t realise how much I would be relying on internet access during this trip. Still all it took was a short stroll down the main street to find wifi spilling out of all the other motels.
Before I went out for dinner I sat out on the little porch outside my room, playing my ukulele and drinking a beer. Living. The. Dream.
Tuesday – I took the old Grand Canyon Railway which has period cars and provides information and entertainment en route to the Canyon. It takes about two and a half hours to get there, and it was a joy to have a day off from driving.
The Canyon was pretty much exactly as I expected. It’s very impressive, especially the first five minutes of staring at it in wonder. And it’s also heaving with tourists, exactly as I expected. From the train depot (which is at the South Rim) I walked west along the rim trail then followed the Bright Angel trail down into the Canyon. This is one of the trails that leads all the way down to the Colorado river, if you follow it long enough. I only walked down a mile or so and found a little spot in the shade, just off the trail to eat my lunch. While I was there I saw a mule train coming back up the trail. That’s got to be the easy way to do it! Once I came back up I walked a bit further along the rim trail then headed back for the train back to Williams.
The Grand Canyon is an impressive place and if I ever went back I’d love to the overnight hike right down to the river. But because it was precisely what I was expecting, and because it was so full of tourists it can’t beat that view and the peace and quiet at the top of that cable car above Palm Springs.
Tomorrow I’m entering into Phase 3 of my trip. I’m driving to Vegas, dropping off my Dodge and spending the next four days at The Amaz!ng Meeting. I’ll be meeting up with Liza (and Bill, her husband too) which I’m really looking forward, especially since I’ve not seen her since October!
It feels like a month since I was in San Francisco, not a week. I don’t think I could’ve crammed any more into this holiday if I tried. It is officially The Best Holiday Ever.
For now, thanks for reading and I bid you adieu.